Flights to Freedom

One New Paltz professor tells all about co-authoring a book on the Hudson Valley's African American history


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Susan Stessin-Cohn has been teaching about African American history in the Hudson Valley for many years. This past fall, she co-authored a book that is destined to be included in that curriculum.

It’s called “In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York's Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831,” published by Black Dome Press in Delmar. The book collects reproductions and transcriptions of archival newspaper notices for more than 600 runaway slaves placed by their enslavers or agents. It also includes advertising for slaves captured, slaves for sale and offers to purchase slaves, as well as some runaway notices from outside the Hudson River Valley region. Maps, illustrations, indexes, data analysis and a foreword by A.J. Williams-Myers, formerly of the Black Studies Department at SUNY New Paltz, help contextualize the original documents. 

Stessin-Cohn, former professor of social studies education at SUNY New Paltz and Director of Education at Historic Huguenot Street, is currently the Historian for the Town of New Paltz. Co-author Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini is the former Manager of Collections and Archives at Historic Huguenot Street. Together, they have curated various exhibits on slavery, Native American history and nineteenth century arts and customs.

“Ashley is an incredible researcher,” Stessin-Cohn says. A grant-funded project to collect these notices produced far more than the 40-50 they thought they’d find. “When we got into the hundreds, we wondered, what can we do with them? They are too important to let sit,” she says. Since publication, they have found about 100 more. “We are trying to decide what to do with those — maybe a volume 2,” she says. 

 

The authors will be offering a series of presentations and book signings in the coming months:

• Jan. 16, 2 p.m., Albany Institute of History and Art, 125 Washington Avenue, Albany.
• Jan. 24, 7 p.m., New City Library, 220 N. Main Street, New City.
• Feb 7, 4 p.m., Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh.
• March 5, 2 p.m., Chatham Bookstore, 27 Main Street, Chatham.


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